Of Levertov’s Mountain

In our new thinking about the ordinary and the sacred, certain things are experienced not as symbols of transcendence, but as sites of immanent being even in their finitude. Transcendence foregrounds such things.

Now this experience is ‘aesthetic,’ and so a dimension or aspect of plurivocal being. In an earlier ‘climate of opinion’ this experience would have been considered panentheistic. This development deserves further thought.

The phenomenon is readily observed in Denise Levertov’s poem ‘Effacement.’ Here she compares the mountain as it is today —‘cloud’— in a simile drawn from the Bible. A two-for, embedded complex image. So both resources of her poetic grammar—- the ‘is’ of equivalency (‘Today the mountain/is cloud…’) and the simile (‘like the archangel…)—-help her convey her experience of the mountain.

The image of Tobias accompanied unknowingly by an angel frames the narrative in ways suitable to the sacred/ordinary topos. Ironically it will be noted that the willingness to perceive in the finite thing the values of the sacred may be taken as a repetition of the hermeneutics of Christ, though the absence of an apocalyptic endgame makes a difference.


Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at tom.develyn@comcast.net. D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at http://tdevelyn.com and other sites.

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